Thursday, March 31, 2011

Photographing the Belted Kingfisher

Text and photo by Skeeter Lasuzzo

The Belted Kingfisher is both fun and frustrating to photograph. These little birds will hardly sit still long enough to get a good close up image. There are many things about the kingfisher that are interesting, such as the female is more brightly colored than the male, unusual in the bird world, and how they dive head first into the water in an attempt to catch fish. One of the most unexpected facts about the kingfisher is that they build their nest in a burrow in the dirt banks near creeks or streams. The burrow will usually slope upward from the entrance, probably to keep water out and can be anywhere from one to eight feet in length.

We have found that spotting a Kingfisher and then trying to get close to it is almost impossible. Since we had previously seen a Kingfisher near a small body of water in Hagerman Wildlife Refuge, we set up and waited for the Kingfisher to show up. After a while, the male Kingfisher showed up and landed on a limb just as we had hoped. Upon landing on the limb, the Kingfisher announced its arrival by raising its topnotch and tail feathers and letting out its loud cry. We were prepared and got the image.

ED: New Bird Checklists are now available at Refuge Headquarters, stop in and pick up one on your next visit. For more information about the Refuge, see and for information about activities and events, see

Thursday, March 24, 2011

GPS Units Available for Checkout at Refuge HQ

By Becky Goodman

Have you ever hiked the trails out at Hagerman and gotten turned around? Have you driven the pad roads and gotten confused? It happens all the time. People get so excited about seeing the next bird, animal, flora or fauna that they forget to pay attention to where they are and where they should be going.

Hagerman now has four GPS receiver units that can be checked out from the Refuge Headquarters. Two of these GPS receiver units are pre-loaded with four of the hiking trails that are available for the public to enjoy at the Refuge. You can page through the contents to determine whether the trails are loaded on the unit you plan to use.

While the Refuge staff has installed more signage on the trails and roads to make it easier to traverse Hagerman, it’s a great idea to check out one of the new GPS units to help you explore the Refuge safely.

Brief instructions on how to use them are included in the checkout, but how do they work? These devices provide their users with information about location, distance, direction, tracking and routes. The GPS receivers use a process called trilateration. The receiver locks signals with at least four different satellites orbiting the Earth, and based on the time it takes the signals to reach the different satellites, a calculation is made about the location of the GPS unit. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that the GPS receiver has an “eye to the sky” the majority of the time it’s in use.

When using a GPS receiver unit, it is very important to mark the starting point. These marks are called “waypoints” on most GPS systems. The more waypoints marked, the easier it is to retrace the route and to return to the starting point.

Other safety features include recording the distance of a hike or drive, tracking weather forecasts, barometric pressure readings and humidity levels to help avoid storms, and showing the times of sunrise and sunset to assist in planning.

The next time you’re out at Hagerman, check out one of the GPS receiver units. They’re available from the Refuge Office on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Saturdays between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. and on Sundays from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. If you’d like to check to see if a unit is available or to reserve one, please call the Refuge office at (903)786-2826.

To find out more information about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, please visit: To learn about activities, events and programs at the Refuge, please visit

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Refuge Opens Boating and Pond Fishing Season

Text and Photo by Ken Carr

Although fishing is allowed throughout the year in the creeks and parts of Lake Texoma that exist in the Hagerman Wildlife Refuge, the unofficial fishing and boating season starts in mid-March when the crappie begin their annual spawn and boating once again is allowed in some Refuge waters and fishing is allowed in the Refuge's several small ponds.

Once again this year the boating and pond fishing will begin a few weeks early on March 15. Until 2010, the opening date was April 1. As in years past the closing date is Sept. 30.

The two extra weeks may not sound like much to the uninitiated,
but these weeks usually coincide with the spring crappie run which lasts roughly from mid-March to the end of April depending on springtime temperatures. During this time crappie gather in shallower waters and become more aggressive feeders. Much of the spawn occurs in creeks and sloughs and the use of a boat, even a small jon boat or a kayak, allows the anglers to fish thousands of acres of water that otherwise would be unaccessible. Watercraft must be confined to only the waters of Big Mineral Creek and its associated creeks. Water skiing, jet skiing and night time boating are not allowed. The Refuge is closed after sundown.

Most of Hagerman's ponds are bank accessible and are particularly good for younger anglers because of their shallower waters. The ponds are stocked occasionally and can provide a fun afternoon for younger anglers. Refuge officials recommend that adults catching fish in the ponds practice catch and release because the ponds can be easily fished out.
Two of the more popular ponds are located near the Refuge office and others are along the Harris Creek Trail as well as Haller's Haven Trail.

There are three boat ramps located in the Refuge. They are
on Tern Road, near Pad L and between pads A and B. The ramp on Pad L was built last year and has a floating dock. Anglers with kayaks and small flat bottomed boats can launch from the bank at Big Mineral Park, which is also a popular place for bank fishers. Other popular spots for bank fishers include the oilfield pads, Harris Creek across the road from the Refuge office and the low water Bridge north of the Refuge Office.

Those fishing the Refuge waters are required to have either a Texas fishing license or a Lake Texoma Fishing License. Those fishing the Refuge ponds are required to have a Texas fishing license. The only anglers not required to have a fishing license are those under 17 years of age and those born in 1930 or earlier. Anglers may keep up to 37 crappie per day, but they must be at least 10 inches in length.

Kevin Vaughn is a full time law officer at the Refuge and is known for his diligence in enforcing
Refuge regulations, particularly in regards to licenses, fish limits-both size and number--and the Refuge's speed limits.

Photo Caption: Log jams on Big Mineral Creek such as this can be ideal fishing spots for crappie in the Hagerman Wildlife Refuge. The boating season which just opened in the Refuge allows boating anglers to reach "fishy" spots such as this on the lower end of the creek which usually are inaccessible to bank anglers.

Regulations for Refuge use and other information may be found at Friends of Hagerman activities and events are posted at

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Crested Caracara: the falcon that acts like a vulture and looks like an eagle.

By Wayne Meyer, PhD

Lately there have been several sightings of Crested Caracara in Texoma (see photo by Mike Chiles, Denison Dam, December 2010). This bird has a fascinating life history. Caracaras are birds of prey, but despite their large size and broad wings that get them mistaken for eagles, they are most closely related to falcons. Unlike other falcons, the Crested Caracara rarely takes prey in the air. Instead, Caracaras usually find prey by perching and waiting for the prey to go by, or they will cruise low over fields, not unlike the way Northern Harriers do. When a Caracara finds prey, it usually chases it on foot, which may explain why insects are a very large part of the Caracara’s diet.

Caracaras are relatively common in central Texas, although they had been in decline from the 1930s to 1980s. If you have ever driven past a chicken farm between Houston and Corpus Christi, you may have seen one feeding on carcasses of dead chickens. Their willingness to eat carrion means Caracaras are often found among groups of vultures, and one local name for them is Mexican Buzzard, which reflects their fondness for carrion.

Over the last few years, we have been seeing Caracaras more often at Hagerman NWR. One possible explanation for the increased sightings is that populations in Texas are recovering slowly from the effects of pesticides and persecution. Some experts suspect, however, that like lots of other southern species that are slowly moving northward, the Caracaras are responding to global climate change. As human caused warming has occurred, the Caracara, White-winged Dove, Great-tailed Grackle and several other species have expanded their ranges northward.

To learn more about birds and other wildlife at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, visit the official Refuge website,, and for information about activities and events, please see

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dark Morph Red-Tailed Hawk At Hagerman

Text and Photography by Skeeter Lasuzzo

Red-tailed Hawks are the most common hawk in North America and are known for their brick-colored tails. While most of us are familiar with a typical Red-tailed Hawk seen soaring over pastures or sitting on telephone poles on the edge of fields, we might not know that there are a number of different colors or subspecies of Red-tails. Some don't even have a red tail. The image I have included today is a dark morph Red-tailed Hawk, sometimes called a Harlan's Hawk. The Harlan's Hawk breeds in Alaska and North-West Canada then migrates south to primarily Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas where they spend the winter. This hawk was photographed at Hagerman Wildlife Refuge. The Harlan's is considered uncommon at Hagerman and this is the first one we have seen there. Notice the light colored eyes.

Another subspecies of the Red-tailed, that can sometimes be seen in North Texas, is the Krider's Hawk. It is a light colored version with a white colored head and tail. The tail may even have a pinkish tint.

This is also the season to observe the courting ritual of not only the Harlan's but all Red-tailed Hawks. The male and female hawk will soar at high altitude, circling one another. The male will alternate steep dives with steep upward climbs. He will then approach the female from above. He will briefly touch the female with his legs and on some occasions they will lock talons and spiral toward the ground, eventually pulling apart.

So keep your eyes to the sky, not only for the dark morph Red-tailed Hawk (the Harlan's Hawk), but for a chance to witness an unusual courting ritual.

Want to know more about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. The official website for the Refuge is and information about activities and events of the Friends of Hagerman can be found at